First-year coach leads NU to No. 19 ranking

Sarah Bailey

Led by two senior captains and a new head coach, the Northwestern field hockey team has overcome early game struggles to begin its season with a 5-3 record and a No. 19 ranking.

After four years as an NU assistant coach, Kelly McCollum took over the head position this season and has guided her team into the national polls.

“Kelly has really been awesome for us,” sophomore Ellen Schlafly said. “She really takes time to relate to us and work with us to make us better.

“We’re a lot more creative on the field and that’s really helped us a lot. We have a new way to play so when something doesn’t work we’re able to move to the next play without getting stuck in a rut like we used to.”

McCollum attributes a large part of the team’s success to offensive and defensive captains Candice Cooper and Morgan Kuhn. McCollum said the two have risen to her expectations and their level of play has been “contagious” with teammates.

Cooper leads the team in points with 10 goals and three assists and became the second NU player to be named Big Ten offensive player of the week after she scored eight goals in three games. Sophomore Meghan Small received the award the first week when she knocked in NU’s two goals in its season-opening 2-1 overtime win against James Madison.

To be a great team, however, McCollum said the team must dominate play from the beginning. In six of its games NU trailed early. The Cats bounced back against James Madison, Fairfield and Ball State to capture wins.

Against No. 2 Maryland, No. 13 American and Stanford the Cats could not recover from early deficits.

“We need to start setting a standard earlier in the match,” McCollum said. “We have to go out hard and strong and control the match early.

“We have the capability to do it and we’re just not there right now. Great teams control their own game, and they don’t worry about their opponent.”

Still McCollum is pleased with her team’s performance. The Cats opened the season with a four game win-streak, including a decisive 6-0 win over Ohio. They lost 2-0 to Maryland, but were glad to keep the score low against a Terrapins squad averaging 4.8 goals a game.

“It was really neat to sweep both weekends to start,” Cooper said. “That was great to really boost our confidence.

“In the past we’ve just been trying to stick in games and this year we’re scoring more goals and winning games 6-0. “

Cooper thinks the team has been successful so quickly this year because they have bonded more than in the past.

“As a team we’re really playing for each other now,” Cooper said. “That’s really been a focus for us. In the years past, people have been into themselves but this year the team is so close.

“Our freshmen have come in and were on board right from the beginning. And there are only two seniors, so the juniors have definitely picked it up too.”

The team played the best this year against Kent State, McCollum said. The Cats outhustled the Golden Flashes and played cohesively.

In its game Saturday, NU overcame a 2-0 deficit after the half to pull out a 3-2 win. McCollum said she thought the team played a poor first half, but was pleased that the girls made some changes quickly during halftime and found a way to pull out the win.

Adjusting to elite teams will be the Cats’ biggest challenge in the upcoming weeks as the team opens its Big Ten season on Friday against Iowa. McCollum said the conference games are always tough, but she said the nonconference games have helped prepare the team for the league slate.

“The start of our season was tremendous,” McCollum said. “We’re taking a stand and trying to make a statement from last year to this year. The biggest focus for us is NU and the NU style of play and standard of play.

“Both myself and my assistant coach Jen [Pelleriti-Sarmiento] are alumni of the program so I think we’re trying to instill a new attitude of winning. This program was a winning program 10 years ago and we want it to be that again.”

Reach Sarah Bailey at [email protected]